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May 30, 2016

Nokia goes Android: What do we want to see?

by John_A

Nokia is back, announcing that it’s going to be embracing Android and producing a number of smartphones and tablets over the coming years.

Nokia’s story has more twists and turns than a mountain pass, with an equal number of ups and downs. The announcement that we’ll be seeing Nokia branded phones once again is certainly exciting.

But what are we going to see, and what do we want to see?

What happened to Microsoft and Nokia?

The Nokia and Microsoft smartphone dalliance we’ll put down to a nasty affair. With Nokia realising that it was falling behind, it embraced Windows Phone with the Lumia line.

Soon the Lumia line was pretty much all there was to Windows Phone and Microsoft took over. The Nokia name was dropped, Microsoft Devices ruled the roost and several Microsoft Lumia devices followed on.

That hasn’t really worked out so well, so Microsoft has sold off some of the Nokia business it acquired, a new company has been formed called HMD (staffed by ex-Nokia and ex-Microsoft people), Nokia has granted a brand license to this company to make smartphones and tablets, and so this messy break-up will play out. 

Nokia has said, however, that it’s going to be keeping a close eye on things to make sure that everything carrying the Nokia name meets the standards you expect, which is an important point.

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Nokia’s Android tablet: The Nokia N1

While Nokia wasn’t able to produce smartphones following the acquisition by Microsoft, it did show off an Android tablet, the Nokia N1. 

This was demoed at Mobile World Congress 2015 in Barcelona where we got our hands on it. That was in a similar position that Nokia’s future business will be in. The N1 was designed and managed by Nokia, but manufactured by Foxconn in China.

The result was a device that looked a lot like the iPad mini, but also carried the same quality of build to it, which is a good thing. It was also demonstrated to us with a full Android Lollipop build with Google Play services, something that wasn’t on the device in China, but a clear indicator that Nokia was playing with Android.

We commented at the time that it would make a great Nexus tablet: wouldn’t that be a great poke in the eye from Google, if it was to have a Nokia Nexus in the near future?

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Nokia Android: Colourful Lumia design

When Nokia started churning out Lumia handsets, there was one thing that made them stand apart: colour.

No one else was making devices in colours other than black or silver, perhaps gold, or a special edition pink. Meanwhile Nokia was giving us neons with punch and verve. We’re certainly hoping that we see these things again.

It was perhaps telling that when Microsoft announced the Lumia 950 and 950 XL, colour was gone, perhaps a foreboding that the business was soon to be gone too. We’re sure that Nokia will embrace consumer glory and give us lots of delicious colours once again. 

But alongside those colours, Nokia has produced some phones that feel great and look great, without going all-out metal, like many of current flagships.

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Nokia Android: PureView camera wizardry

Nokia’s Symbian swansong before this whole Microsoft thing was the 808 PureView. In some ways this was demonstrative of everything that was going wrong at Nokia, presenting a slightly under-specced phone that was too expensive, sitting on an operating system that lacked the consumer ease of the iPhone and the maturing Android (we’re talking 2012, remember the burning platform?)

But it gave us the 41-megapixel PureView camera and that trumped everything else around at the time. PureView, with Zeiss lenses continues into the Lumia line and the next big hit was the Lumia 1020, again punching hard with the camera in 2013. 

The smartphone camera game has changed in the last few years, but there’s still a lot to play for. Camera performance still gets top billing from all manufacturers – Apple gives its iPhone launch over to camera demos, Samsung does the same – so there’s everything to play for.

So this is where we have high hopes for future Nokia Androids: we want to see a class-leading PureView camera on an Android handset.

Nokia Android: Go high-end hardware

For those who followed the Windows Phone story, we waited a long time for a premium handset and it never appeared. That fuelled rumours of the Surface phone, but many of the Nokia Lumia devices were mid-range, following the argument that they’d be great in the developing world.

While we loved some of the designs (the Lumia 720, Lumia 925), it always felt as though Nokia never really went premium. Yes, some of the designs would now be great in the mid-range as a Moto G competitor, but we’d love a real flagship. 

And by flagship, we mean a no holds barred, 5.2-inch Quad HD display, latest Qualcomm Snapdragon hardware, BoomSound-challenging audio for an amazing Daydream VR-ruling experience, and so on.

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Nokia Android: Software goes simple

Let’s face it: Android now offers a very complete user experience. It’s skinned, poked, prodded and adapted, but Nexus devices and Moto devices shine with simplicity. HTC is now moving to get simpler and it all points to one thing – Android doesn’t need to be adapted as it once did. 

Windows Phone presents an interesting case study for Nokia and software. Non-Nokia Windows Phones were worse, because Nokia was driving a lot of apps and innovation into Microsoft’s system. It called these “Lumia Extras” and really this was a patchwork that covered the gaps that Microsoft left. 

Although Android doesn’t need huge changing, there’s opportunities around things like the camera, to really make something special. Then there’s the growing emergence of VR through Daydream, and remember that Nokia is also working on high-end VR capture with the Ozo, experience it can leverage down to the consumer level.

We hope that Nokia doesn’t flatten Android, but we hope it uses its experience to give us an Android device that shines with simplicity, and retains some novelty. 

Nokia Android: When can I get it?

There’s no telling when the Nokia Android release date might be. The ink isn’t even on the agreement that will set this plan in motion, so we’re some way out. Nokia itself has confirmed there’s plenty of work still to do.

We can’t wait for the Nokia renaissance. We’re hoping that some of our wishlist gets fulfilled, otherwise Nokia will just join the swelled ranks of the Android masses.

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